Social media as an expression of class difference
Shyam Sundar is a 21-year-old man from an upper middle-class background and from the Brahmin caste. A graduate student in commerce, he attends a well-known college, owns an i-Phone with a post-paid 3G connection, and is always signed into a host of social media sites. Shyam lives in a wifi-connected high-rise apartment and connects to social media also through his MacbookAir. He has around 380 friends on Facebook, around 145 followers on Twitter, and is also a member of a few WhatsApp groups (the debating society, contacts from his school days. a model UN group, Indian Blue Cross, PETA, a vegan movement etc.). Shyam only `friends’ people he knows offline. His photo albums show him mixing with men and women, and feature branded goods and US trends, such as metal bands and US TV shows. There is nothing to indicate that his mother-tongue is Tamil or that he lives in Tamil Nadu.
By contrast Karvannan, is a 21-year-old male computer science college student of the Dalit (formally called `untouchable’) caste, who works at the branch of a national bank in Panchagrami. Karvannan studies on a government scholarship, has a second-hand smart phone and accesses Facebook and WhatsApp only through a pre-paid internet data card. He uses the data card sparingly to check for WhatsApp messages from his college friends group during lunch. Otherwise his internet access is restricted to times when it becomes free (before 7 am or after 9 pm). Of his 670 Facebook friends, over 450 are strangers, and around 100 of these are women, although his account was briefly suspended when he sent too many friend requests to strangers. According to his profile, he works for a major IT company, which in his view, should impress these strangers. He mainly posts pictures of babies (to attract women), Tamil film stars, and good wishes for Hindu festivals. His photo albums only show photos of him alone, with his 6-year-old niece on his moped, or pictures with a few male college mates on a beach close to home. None are with women. Posts are normally in Tamil or Tamil in English script.